Doing Public Theology Like a Grown-Up

Doing Public Theology Like a Grown-UpI cringe to think back on the sermons I preached and the blog posts I wrote in my twenties and thirties. (I’m sure I’ll feel the same about my forties, twenty years from now.) I spent my time as a preacher and blogger going after the easy wins and cheap applause. I would criticize and tear down those who were obviously heretical. With rhetorical flare, I damned the behaviors everyone already knows we condemn. I took cheap shots to slam dunk enemies. I labored to make the points I knew my theological camp would give me an “atta boy” for making.

Such behavior is all too common in sermons, articles, social media hot takes, and blog posts. It certainly brings traffic, if that’s what you’re after. (All press is good press. Right?) I’ve come to realize that such behavior is a cheap, easy, lazy, and immature way to do public theology. In short, it’s soft, biblical childishness.

What Love Is

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” We find those words near the end of Paul’s famous chapter on love. They apply so well to such immature public theology, which is anything but Christlike love.

Love is patient; cheap shots are not. Slam dunk tweets are arrogant; love is not. Bad arguments and misrepresentation of opponents are dishonest; love rejoices with the truth. Quick condemnation without conversation is suspicion that imputes evil; love gives the benefit of the doubt. Immature public theology serves itself; love serves others.

Growing Up Online

At some point, the Lord convicted me of my immature public theology. (Something he regularly does.) So, “when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” I’m (slowly) learning to love like a grown-up theologian.

Christic adulthood means we put away laziness. We do hard things. We do theology with disciplined maturity. We buffet our theological bodies into conformity with the grace-and-truth-embodying Christ.

This means we extend the benefit of the doubt those whose theological statements we might misunderstand instead of jumping to a conclusion for the sake of a retweet. We read with charity, understanding authors have word limits. Instead of exalting ourselves through a cancel-culture, we take pains to have slow, careful theological conversations. We restate their position in a way that they would agree with, instead of using selective-quoting to make a brother or sister appear the heretic. Instead of ignoring good-faith critics, we welcome honest questions and critique. We seek to learn from those with whom we disagree, instead of surrounding ourselves with those who we know will say what we already think. In short, we treat each other as we want to be treated. We demonstrate the grace God showed to us when we were his enemies.

Planks Before Specks

When we need to get tough, to ask the hard questions, and to point out errors, we begin with those in our own camp. We’re hardest on ourselves. We don’t allow those on “our side” to get away with cheap shots against “the other side.” Like an editor, we point out our friends’ bad arguments and poorly-worded statements. We expose our own weaknesses and press on those points.

I am a conservative, complementarian, Calvinistic, Baptist Christian. I studied with such Christians in seminary, read their books, and listened to their sermons. They taught me theology. I most closely align with them. So, I pushback hardest against them, but not because I don’t love them. I pushback against my own camp because I’m pushing back against, buffeting, and disciplining me.